By Clara H
It can be difficult to know how to respond to certain situations you might of never been in before. Many people on the Autism spectrum often get told things that can be more offensive than you may assume. Sometimes the first thing that comes to mind should just stay inside of your head. So, what are some things you should not say to people with ASD? I came up with a list of 15 and will include a few extras at the end of things that we do want to hear from you.
1. You don’t look Autistic
Autism does not have a specific look. You can not tell if somebody is on the spectrum by the way their facial features are. It is neurological developmental difference that affects your mind. Most people with it don’t look any different then anyone else. “You don’t look Autistic” will be interpreted to “I am discrediting all of the hard work you do to get to where you are today”.
2. You must be very high functioning
We are all affected differently. Some of us tend to be less noticeable and require not as much attention than others do. That does not mean we are not affected by it as much as the people who need more care. People with Asperger Syndrome have their own challenges separate from those with severe Autism. If you state “you must be very high functioning” we will take that in as “you are not affected by it that much”.
3. I would’ve never guessed
I may be different from another person you know with ASD but no two people are alike. Autism is a very wide spectrum. Many of us put a lot of work into masking our symptoms so we can blend in with society. When you say “I would've never guessed” is not taken in as a complement. To us you are saying “I don’t believe you”. People with Autism typically are very truthful because we feel guilty if we’re not.
4. Everyone’s a little Autistic
Anyone can have the same traits of those who are on the spectrum like, communication difficulties, sensory challenges, and anxiety. But, if you think that everyone is a little Autistic than you don’t understand the Autism reality. It’s the same way for allergies. Just because you sneeze and cough, does not necessarily mean you are having an allergic reaction. You either are or you’re aren’t, no in between. I think people say this in a way of stating that we are not alone. I am aware of that, but “everyone's a little autistic” and “You are not the alone” mean two completely different things.
5. I feel sorry for you
Why are you sorry? My differences are not something you should be apologizing for. Autism is NOT a deadly disease that I am suffering from. It is something that makes me who I am as a human being. So please do not feel bad for me just because of the way my mind works. Saying “I feel sorry for you” means “I hope you get cured”. Which I personally believe that ASD doesn’t need to be cured.
6. Autism is not an excuse
This one is not wrong. Autism should not be used as an excuse. But I was never using it as an excuse in the first place. I was using it as an explanation and reason to my way of living life. The reason this is taken in an offensive way is because it makes us feel like you are blaming us for something that we did not do.
7. Are you really smart?
Yes, I am smart but not in the way you are probably thinking. One Autism stereotype is that we all have savant like abilities. People assume that we are able to do rapid calculations. If we respond “yes” to this question, a common response is to ask me some really difficult math problem and then expect me to solve it in my head right then and there. I usually will say “I don’t know that” and they might respond with, “Then you are not smart”. That is what can hurt my feelings.
8. Autistic people don’t feel empathy
Many of us have a hard time understanding cognitive empathy which is different than affective empathy. Cognitive empathy means to predict others thoughts and the ability to “read between lines”. Affective empathy is what some people believe we lack. We actually almost have too much of affective empathy because we tend to get very strong emotions about people's feelings and can be really sensitive. Saying we don’t have empathy is basically the same thing as saying that we don’t feel any emotions at all. Which is not true.
9. I have stress and anxiety too
Stress and anxiety are things that Autism comes with. It is not only a form of stress and anxiety. Also, that is your story, this is my situation that is different from yours. Don’t compare yourself to me. You are not me and I am not you. I understand that you are trying to connect with me. It’s just that no two people who are dealing with anxiety and stress are going through it in the exact same way.
10. It’s no big deal
What is not a big deal to you may be a big deal to me. I experience the world in a different way than most and have my own opinions about certain things. When you say “It’s no big deal”, to me that means “You are overreacting”. Which I might not think I am. Besides, you do not know what is going on inside of my mind. I could be upset about more then one thing.
11. Look me in the eye
Making direct eye contact is very uncomfortable for many of us. It feels like I’m staring. I was taught that it’s not nice to stare. I don’t understand why it’s okay to look at people if they are talking but not okay if they are not saying anything. I usually hear this because people assume I am not listening. Listing is done with your ears, not your eyes. Just because I’m not looking at you does not mean that I’m not paying attention.
12. It’s not loud to me
Okay, well it is to me. A lot of individuals on the spectrum have very powerful ears. We can hear every sound around us at the exact same volume. We can hear things that you may not even know has a sound. The more noise around us, the more overwhelmed we will get. If you say “It’s not loud to me” we will think you are saying, “You shouldn’t think it’s noisy either”.
13. You are being annoying and embarrassing
Saying these words is just being rude! How would you feel if someone called you annoying and/or embarrassing? Neurotypicals think that we are purposely trying to be obnoxious. What we are actually trying to do is get our mind out from a current, past, or future situation that we find or found to be stressful. This technique is called, stimming. A way for people with ASD and other conditions with sensory changes use to calm themselves down.
14. You need to calm down
Do you know how hard I’ve been trying to be calm? This is me taking a break from being calm. Staying relaxed in some scenarios can be difficult. Saying “You need to calm down” is not going to help me. In fact, it could make my meltdown worse because it’s irritating when we hear you say that. We may not know how to calm ourselves down in that moment.
15. You could be normal if you tried
In my opinion Autism is the normal. Why do you want me to change my behaviors if I am happy with them. The sad thing that’s sad about this is that NTs are not always happy with them. Because of that they tend to think we are strange. I don’t have a problem with being myself. I hope that some day the world will not view Autism as a problem. “You could be normal if you tried” to me means “You need to change”.
After all this talk about what you shouldn’t say to people with ASD, what are somethings you CAN say to them? Here are some short lists from different categories.
Always remember to be patient while waiting for answers. You may have to rephrase your words and ask follow up questions. Conversation skills are hard for those on the autism spectrum.
Good responses to diagnosis:
1. That makes sense. I can see that.
2. How brave of you to open up about that. Thank you.
3. Can you tell me about autism?
(Don’t act shocked. Be understanding and listen to them.)
Responding to stressful moments:
1. What can I do to help?
2. Let’s go take a brake. (ex: go on a walk and getting a drink of water)
3. I’m here for you if you need me.
(Make sure they know that you care by making them feel safe)
1. Tell me about what you did so far today
2. What are your interests?
3. We should hang out sometime
(It is most likely that you will be the one who starts the conversation)
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